No Power Outage

High school hitters compete in international derby

This past July at the 2008 Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium, Justin Morneau took the trophy, but most will remember Josh Hamilton's majestic first round in which he blasted 28 balls into the seats.

A very similar situation happened at the third annual International Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. Christian Walker served the role of Justin Morneau, while Bryce Harper played the part of Hamilton.

Christian Walker
Walker is a third baseman from Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High in Norristown, Pa. and committed to attend South Carolina after graduating this spring. Walker hit three home runs with a wood bat and seven more with metal to earn a spot in the finals, then after a long layoff, he hit nine more home runs to win the title.

In this derby, each contestant gets a total of 25 outs in the preliminary round. Ten of those outs are with a wood bat, followed by 15 with metal. Walker hit three home runs with wood and seven with metal to be one of the five finalists. He was the 18th player to hit out of almost 70, so he had a long break between rounds.

"I think I finished hitting at about 11 o'clock," Walker said. "So I had from 11 to 9 o'clock to wait. I got some lunch and watched everybody else, which I enjoyed."

In the finals, Walker hit nine home runs to be crowned the champion, but much more drama happened before the finals even began thanks to a home run by Harper that will be remembered by everyone at the park.

500 is 500

Harper is a member of the 2011 class and was one of two sophomores at the event. He's an earlier favorite to be the first overall pick in 2011 and any of his appearances come with much anticipation. Harper's preliminary round was nothing short of spectacular. He stepped to the plate with his trusted wood bat and a noticeable hush fell over everyone watching.

But his timing was slightly off and it wasn't long before Harper breezed through his 10 outs with nothing to show for it.

"I looked up to my pops after the round and he said to be patient," Harper said. "I told myself I gotta pick it up. I said a little prayer in my head and went back up there."

Harper finally got his timing down, but with only three outs left he had five home runs and needed at least four to have a chance at making the finals. Then the advice and prayer seemed to kick in.

Bryce Harper
Before recording his final out, Harper hit a group of six home runs that were accompanied by shattering details. Of the six shots, three traveled 484 feet or more while they all averaged a distance of 469 feet.

Representatives from Hit Tracker were in attendance, measuring exit velocity with the trusted Stalker Pro II radar gun, as well as flight time and using blueprints of the stadium to estimate the distances. Harper's six-pack of bombs averaged a staggering 120 mph of exit velocity with the hardest coming off at 124.5. That one traveled 502 feet, the longest of the event and on record at Tropicana.

The information provided by Hit Tracker only added intrigue to an already unique event. Hit Tracker has blue prints of all 30 major league stadiums, complete with field dimensions and even obstacles to better estimate the distance traveled. Curiosity got the better of Greg Rybarczyk and he started toying with Harper's home runs and other blue prints.

According to Rybarczyk, the 502-footer would have exited Yankee Stadium.

Top 5 Distances*
Player Wood
Brett Sanders (Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, Ontario) 408
Cody Geyer (North Bubcombe High, Weaverville, N.C.) 408
Chris Constantino (Bishop Hendricken High, Warwick, R.I.) 406
Christian Walker (Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic, Norristown, Pa.) 398
Dante Bichette Jr., (Orangewood Christian, Maitland, Fla.) 398

Player Metal
Bryce Harper (Las Vegas High) 502
Brett Sanders (Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, Ontario) 478
Matt Conway (Brother Rice High, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) 475
Randal Grichuk (Lamar Consolidated High, Rosenburg, Texas) 475
Josh Leyland (San Dimas High, Calif.) 472
"It was hit at precisely the right direction to get just to the left of the upper deck in Yankee Stadium, but to the right of the bleachers and back bleacher wall," he said. "It would have cleared the back wall of Yankee Stadium with probably about 15 to 20 feet to spare."

Remember when Hamilton joked "You know that hole where you can see the subway? Watch out."

In theory, Harper did just that. Another one of his shots traveled 484 feet and at its angle would have landed in the right field Upper Deck of Fenway Park, which has never been done.

Full disclosure, this was done with a metal bat, but in the end it didn't matter. Several people came away saying, "500 feet is 500 feet."

Brian Domenico, president of the Power Showcase, was very excited with the success of this year's installment, especially with the performance of Harper.

"It was a matter of time before he settled in," Domenico said. "You could see what was going on as soon as he hit the first one. Then when he hit the second one, you could see the confidence, his level of focus, the natural talent and ability and the adrenaline all come to a climax at one time."

Even though Harper was clearly the biggest moment, a couple of other home runs were sprinkled in that had spectators cheering. Dante Bichette, the son of the former Rockies slugger, is just a sophomore like Harper. He came close to 400 feet with a wood bat and landed in the finals after hitting 11 home runs in the preliminary round, but not without some good advice from a very experienced veteran.

"He told me just to go out and have fun," Bichette said of his father's words. "I had nothing to prove so that's what I did."

Bridging A Gap

The Power Showcase is a unique event meant to bring the purity and power to the forefront of baseball and bring U.S. and international baseball together, according to Domenico. He scours lists of prospects and makes hundreds of calls to find his roster for each year. While getting some of the big names in the prospect world, Domenico is also able to find players that fly under the radar.

Finalists Home Runs
Player Final Round Overall
Christian Walker (Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic, Norristown, Pa.) 9 19
Ryan Gunhouse (Clear Creek High, League City, Texas) 8 17
Randal Grichuk (Lamar Consolidated High, Rosenburg, Texas) 8 20
Dante Bichette (Orangewood Christian, Maitland, Fla.) 4 15
Bryce Harper (Las Vegas High) 1 12
"The idea is to continue to bridge the gap between kids from the United States and all international countries," Domenico said. "If there is one thing that is universal, it's the home run. It's the greatest moment in sport."

In 2008, Domenico had a representative from each state as well as several international players. Only a handful of those were really legitimate high level power hitters that put on shows, but the event is developing.

"Every year we make adjustments," Domenico added. "This year we had 25 or so that were unreal. The goal for next year is to increase that to probably 80 percent of the guys there are truly the best power guys."

Another interesting feature is the purity and power aspect that Domenico really tries to drive home. His hope is to include every participant one day, but this year the winner took a test for steroids.

Looking to the future, Domenico has big ideas for the event. This year it was broadcast live on the Internet, but as the exposure continues to grow the chances of a television broadcast get better. He would also like to try different venues such as Chase Field or Minute Maid Park.

All of that is to be determined, but as long as players like Harper keep launching moonshots, more people will begin to notice.

Bryce Harper
In the above photo, the circle highlights the ball while the X shows where Harper's 502-foot home run landed between the C and A of Tropicana Field over the screen.

*Distances in charts are Top 5 individual bests, not overall.